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Different sorts of concentration

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Different sorts of concentration
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4/24/15 1:20 PM
Good evening, people. 

I recently came across a post by neuroscientist Judson Brewer. In it, he claims there to be 2 kinds of paying attention.

"There are two ways we can pay attention: force ourselves to concentrate, or be interested."

He goes on to make the case for curiosity as a motor for concentration and paying attention that enable us to focus without (much) effort.

My question, do you find this to be applicable to meditation practices? In my view, 'faking' or mustering curiosity might not be desireable, at least not for non-dual methods. However, for dual methods, perhaps this is more applicable? Also, I would also say that I often find myself in between the two modes of paying attention: doing it willfully, with intent, but not forcibly, and not so much with curiosity. Perhaps interest, but the word 'intent' hits the mark more than 'interest'. 

It'd be really interesting to hear your views and experiences with successfully paying attention and how you attain that or if you use any tricks or just 'do it'.

RE: Different sorts of concentration
Answer
4/24/15 3:37 PM as a reply to Malte.
Malte:
In my view, 'faking' or mustering curiosity might not be desireable, at least not for non-dual methods. However, for dual methods, perhaps this is more applicable?
Could you explain your view? What is a non-dual method? What is a dual method?
Malte:
It'd be really interesting to hear your views and experiences with successfully paying attention and how you attain that or if you use any tricks or just 'do it'.
Very generally I tend to "Pay Attention" to move up the jhanas then switch to a more curious appraoch when exploring and noticing what is happening as sensations arise and attention moves around. I tend to use both methods at different times during the same sit depending on where I'm at and what I'm doing.
~D

RE: Different sorts of concentration
Answer
4/25/15 4:25 AM as a reply to Malte.
most people oscillate between those attention modes

i found that on my recent kasina retreat that I initially used a lot of power and later on was much more fascinated by the images that came up, such that natural curiosity was driving much of what happened as concentration grew stronger and the images became much more rich, deep, vibrant, interesting and realistic

RE: Different sorts of concentration
Answer
4/25/15 11:16 AM as a reply to Malte.
You might like these books on the science of attention:

http://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5576267

http://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5180575

I think people need to stay away from any idea that they can always have effortless attention. As soon as you do something you aren't good at no amount of meditation skills will make that hard thinking easy. You can make giving effort smoother in the sense that you welcome the effort necessary and you don't ruminate on preferences to do something else. Daniel Kaheman explained it well regarding difficult problems like in math. The eyes dialate and it's pretty clear that the brain is like a muscle and certain problems weigh a lot and can't be bridged without a particular thing....................................................PRACTICE! Practice is what makes things automatic/skillful/available upon request.

I used to ruminate a lot about secret ways to reduce the cognitive costs of mental work, but no amount of meditation skills will completely remove the feeling of mental effort. The brain can burn out as well as any overworked muscle. In science the best way to put things into memory is testing and spacing:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/everybody-is-stupid-except-you/201009/study-better-space-it-out-and-mix-it

If you want to create motivation it's usually best to learn from advertisers and how they sell the benefits of something in vivid imagery. Vivid imagery can be guided by yourself like in sports psychology when people mentally practice before the actual practice. Of course actual practice mixed with visualization is the best by far. Reminding yourself of the benefits of why you are doing something in a vivid way is tapping into what advertisters tap into ALL the time. What we are interested in is always easier to pay attention to.

RE: Different sorts of concentration
Answer
4/26/15 9:52 AM as a reply to Dream Walker.
Dream Walker:
Malte:
In my view, 'faking' or mustering curiosity might not be desireable, at least not for non-dual methods. However, for dual methods, perhaps this is more applicable?
Could you explain your view? What is a non-dual method? What is a dual method?

Yes, of course, thanks for asking me to clarify that. I got the categorisation from Lawson Sachter, Zen master and psychotherapist combined. Quote "Dualistically-based practices (such as witnessing, observing, labeling, and choiceless awareness) maintain an awareness separate from what one is paying attention to, which, in psychological terms, would be called strengthening the ‘observing ego.’ Non-dual practices (such as intense shikantaza or initial koan-based practices) work to quiet the conceptual, analytic, and language-based levels of awareness; with them we can dissolve the sense of separation, and enter various levels of samadhi."

One of the reasons I had for posting this question is that I'm currently doing zazen (in the form of intent to merge with the breath, and just letting thoughs come and go) as I'm going to a few different Sanbo Zen retreats this spring.

When doing this, I usually catch myself having critical thoughs when noticing that meditation is hard or when my attention has wandered away from the breath. Schooled in CBT, I know rewards are way better than punishments when it comes to altering behaviours. So if I want to increase the likelyhood of future 'noticing behavious', I ought to reward not punish myself for noticing the wandering mind. However I also find the rewarding to be an action that is mental (or dualistic) which in a sense gets me further away from just "being" hence further from the goal. Also, actively cultivating a sense of curiosity would, in what Lawson terms as non-dual meditation, in my view also be something that (atleast initially) made you more off-track in the meditation, as curiosity is not the breath, which is the object intended for merging with. So, out of these considerations, I also became interested in how other people here 'manage' their attention when meditating.

I suppose my own conclusion this far is that intiatially, to build concentration power/skill, both rewarding myself and actively cultivating interest/curiosity are fair techniques at the beginning of a meditation or retreat, but can be abandoned when concentration has intensified and is more 'up and running'.
Malte:
It'd be really interesting to hear your views and experiences with successfully paying attention and how you attain that or if you use any tricks or just 'do it'.
Very generally I tend to "Pay Attention" to move up the jhanas then switch to a more curious appraoch when exploring and noticing what is happening as sensations arise and attention moves around. I tend to use both methods at different times during the same sit depending on where I'm at and what I'm doing.
~D
This is very interesting to hear, thank you! Doing it in different ways depending on where you're at makes sense.

RE: Different sorts of concentration
Answer
4/26/15 10:00 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Interesting, goes along the same lines as Dream Walker stated just above.

RE: Different sorts of concentration
Answer
4/26/15 10:12 AM as a reply to Richard Zen.
These are very good ideas, thank you. I had forgor about visualisations; many talk about their effectiveness in all kinds of goal-directed activities, I've yet to make using them a habit. So thanks for the reminder.

Also, the book reviews seem fabulous, although I don't have the time to read them today. I will though.

I agree with you that effort is needed. Techniques may increase mileage.

When it comes to spacing, is it your experience that mixing different meditation techniques is more effective than focusing on them separately, each for an extended period?

RE: Different sorts of concentration
Answer
4/26/15 10:56 AM as a reply to Malte.
Hi Malte,

When doing shikantaza, I think the goal is to remove the need for resolution (both in the short term, during meditation, and in the long term as a habit that becomes permanent). Consider that each thought stream that vies for attention when we aren't doing anything is a kind of rehearsal or an attempt to fix a problem. These are all accompanied by a negative feeling. Worries are generally things we're trying not to forget about or problems we feel need to be solved as soon as possible. As an example, if I'm worried about fixing my car, I am relying on the resolution of that problem for emotional stability. The car needs to be fixed before I am allowed to feel better. Whenever the thought comes up, I punish myself with a pang of worry to keep it in my mind and make sure it gets done. If I can let go of that need for resolution, though, I can allow the car to be broken while maintaining emotional stability. This goes for other things that might come up as well. If I'm angry about something someone said to me at work, I'm trying to reclaim stability. If I did something stupid, or made a mistake, then I need to justify myself or think of some solution to correct the mistake before I can feel better.

So, while it's true that we can eventually feel better and find peace of mind by correcting everything on our mental checklist, life is always unfolding and it's impossible to catch up completely. So when I meditate, I sit down with the intention to forget each thing that comes up. This doesn't require willpower or force, and I don't think it requires specific mental states to deepen interest. Instead, it requires patience and a bit of recklessness. When I allow myself to forget something that is bothering me, it often feels like I'm betraying myself or being irresponsible. The interesting thing that happens, though, is that, as the mind clears out of these mental reminders, a simple, steady, peaceful awareness just happens on its own. After meditation, the same things may come up again, but they are stripped of urgency, and we can take them one at a time and give them the priority they actually deserve.

Put another way, I see meditation as training to eliminate impulses. The result is a freedom from urgency, where the mind can rest without being pushed or pulled. The same problems are there in life, but it's much easier to deal with them because they aren't all fighting eachother for priority in the mind. Nothing feels like a problem, it's just life doing its thing.

P.s. It's also common for meditation itself to become something urgent. With something like shikantaza, especially, it's easy to get lost in expectations about what is supposed to be happening. The solution to this is to rememebr that the urgency, itself, is the problem. I usually sit with a clock in view so I can see this urgency happening. The mind might say something like, "40 minutes to go, this is so boring!" And you can respond back, "We'll be sitting here either way, why wait to enjoy yourself?" This usually is the last thing to resolve (or, better, to remove the need to resolve), then it's just pleasant to sit there doing nothing.

RE: Different sorts of concentration
Answer
4/26/15 12:43 PM as a reply to Malte.
Malte:

When it comes to spacing, is it your experience that mixing different meditation techniques is more effective than focusing on them separately, each for an extended period?

Spacing has to do with resting the practicing and recalling modes like when studying for an exam. This gives time for the brain to process the material without overload. It's true in developing any skill that requires the automatic mode to respond.

What is recommended in meditation is the 8 fold path. Make sure there is a concentration practice (higher jhanas are deeper forms of letting go), metta practice, and insight practice. With insight it doesn't matter what experience you are having. You are equanamous towards all experiences until cessation. Keep persisting with letting go no matter what the experience is. This is a good guide. Metta and concentration provide forms of rest when there's too much fear in the insight practice but concentration keeps you from going off into other forms of distraction which are even worse.

RE: Different sorts of concentration
Answer
4/29/15 3:56 PM as a reply to Not Tao.
Yah, I like what you're saying, Not Tao. I also find your reckless approach a bit amusing and interesting and will try the 'forgetting' intention. Tried the 'rewarding myself' a bit and so far I've found it to actually be very helpful for re-focusing better (especially when tired) but also tends to keep the mental faculties more awake than if not being active in that kind of fashion.

Overall, I find the whole 'focus on the emotional drive (i.e. confusion, pain, irritation) with equanimity' in order to nip all cascading things (thoughts, behaviours) in the bud to be an extremely fascinating approach to things.